This week I posted a quote from the book The Cat Who Saved Books: A Novel, which is by Sosuke Natsukawa, not Lillian Jackson Braun as one might think. The “Quote of the Day” (a feature that my Nook e-reader will post to Facebook for me) was “Our best weapon for fighting all the pain and trouble in the world isn’t logic or violence. It’s humor.” In the book, the quote was spoken by the titular cat. The cat was right. Humor has the power to change the world, or at least our perception of it.
I was writing recently in my other blog (bipolarme.blog) about a time when laughter temporarily lifted me out of my depression. Here’s what happened:
My husband and I were sitting on the couch, watching TV. I was not enjoying it. Then a commercial came on about “man-boosting” pills that increase testosterone. It promised everything: strength, leanness, stamina, and outstanding performance in the bedroom.
Dan turned to me and said, “Hey, honey. Maybe I should try some of that. Improve my performance in bed-woo-woo-woo!
I turned and looked him straight in the eyes. I said, in a solemn, deadpan voice, without a trace of a snicker: Woo. Woo. I never got to the third Woo because we both dissolved in giggles. And it felt good – not only that I could laugh, but that I could make him laugh. Just thinking about it made us laugh all over again.
It didn’t cure my depression, of course, but it helped me that day. I can’t say, as the quote goes, that laughter is the best medicine. (Although I did write a humorous essay about the flu (https://butidigress.blog/2022/01/09/when-you-have-the-flu-some-unsolicited-advice/).) But occasionally it is good for what ails you.
I once described books as being like mashed potatoes – comfort food for the mind. I read a lot of books that aren’t humorous at all, such as ones about people dying on Everest or dystopian science fiction novels. But there are comic novels that I return to again and again. One of these is a sci-fi book (though not dystopian), A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. If, as has been said, that writing a novel is the process of creating a character and then throwing rocks at him (or her), then this novel was the epitome of that philosophy.
Subtitled A Comedy of Biology and Manners, the novel takes the main character (who previously appeared in a number of extremely serious novels) and throws massive rocks at him. Bujold loads the rocks in the first section of the book but withholds the trebuchet that lobs them at our hero till halfway through. Then the reader gets comic disaster, a memorable dinner party scene where that building tension is released. The rest of the novel involves the hero trying to clean up the repercussions. Then all the various subplots come together in a magnificent tour de force (or farce, really) that really satisfies.
Two of my favorite writers, James Thurber and Erma Bombeck, took a gentler approach to humor. In their stories and essays, they explored the foibles of personalities and life itself. The past and the present, the fictional and nonfictional, the wry and the absurd were their tools. (Both writers were from Ohio, a coincidence that gives me hope when I try to write something humorous. But I digress.)
A Supreme Court Justice once said that he couldn’t define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. Humor is therefore the same as pornography, at least in that respect. I can’t really define what makes a piece of writing humorous, but I know it when I see it. And I laugh. That makes the world a better place for me to be.